Poynter Institute has launched a bot on WhatsApp that will allow people across the globe to debunk over 4 000 hoaxes about the pandemic. File picture: IANS
Poynter Institute has launched a bot on WhatsApp that will allow people across the globe to debunk over 4 000 hoaxes about the pandemic. File picture: IANS

WhatsApp users can now debunk 4000 coronavirus-related hoaxes with chatbot

By Yasmine Jacobs Time of article published May 7, 2020

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In the latest digital fight against Covid-19, non-profit organisation Poynter Institute has launched a bot on popular messaging service that will allow people across the globe to debunk over 4 000 hoaxes about the pandemic.

According to a TechCrunch report, the chatbot relies on information supplied by over 100 independent fact-checkers in more than 70 countries. 

Whatsapp said the service is currently available in English, but support for other languages including Hindi, Spanish and Portuguese are in the pipeline.

Users can test the chatbot by either saving +1 (727) 2912606 as a contact number and then texting the word “hi.” 

Alternatively, users can click on http://poy.nu/ifcnbot. This does not require one to save the chatbot’s number to their phonebook.

Once users greet the the bot, sending “1” prompts a new message from the chatbot that asks them to enter the keyword or a short sentence of their question. 

Then you can type “origin,” “garlic” (to fact-check that post that said garlic can fight the coronavirus - hint: it does not) or any other keyword related to your question. 

Users may have to wait for a few seconds every time you engage with this chatbot. Also it is worth noting to allow the bot to respond to your query before you ask a new question.

The chatbot identifies a user’s country by checking their mobile country code and provides them with information that has been fact-checked by a reliable organisation closest to them. 

This move comes weeks after WhatsApp limited message forwarding, restricting users to sharing forwarded content one chat at a time after a jump in messages touting bogus medical advice since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

WhatsApp, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide, said in a blog post it made the change after observing a "significant increase" in the number of forwards since the start of the coronavirus crisis.

To further tackle misinformation, Facebook will work with the International Center for Journalists (ICFJ), a non-profit organisation with a history of working with publishers across the world. 

ICFJ will provide $140 000 in these grants to South African publishers, as well as a $250 000 video training program for 10,000 journalists across the continent covering COVID-19 through video reporting. 

“The news industry is working under extraordinary conditions to keep people informed during the COVID-19 pandemic. As people turn to local journalists for critical information on how to keep their friends, families and communities safe, these journalists are affected especially in the current economic crisis,” said Jocelyne Muhutu Remy, strategic media partnerships manager of Facebook Africa. 

IOL TECH

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